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Nowadays it is a fast-moving city thanks to a strategic plan that has completely changed its urban appearance.
However, Bilbao is much more than the Guggenheim. After visiting this original museum, there is still a city with lots of corners to discover: an interesting old quarter, an outstanding urban expansion area from the beginning of the 20th century and an estuary with a long history. This Basque city exemplifies perfectly the symbiosis between a great city and its estuary, and provides the curious tourist with many different offers. You can visit historical monuments, discover picturesque shops, taste delicious dishes or enjoy intense evenings in very different ambiences. It is a lively city that harmoniously combines its ancient past with its modern aspects and its main value lies in the open and good-nature of its people.
The old quarters of Bilbao, a pedestrian area called Las Siete Calles (the seven streets), is the lively heart of the city. These streets bring the visitor closer to the intense history of the “Botxo” (name given to Bilbao by the people from there). It is an area full of small shops and other attractive places to enjoy day and night.
Strolling through the streets of Correo, Víctor, Artecalle, Somera, Barrencalle or Tendería means coming across the most picturesque and traditional shops (cod, “txapelas“ and other sorts of berets, traditional espadrilles, farm products, Basque art, antique shops...) and the most innovative shops (ultramodern clothes and tattoos). We also find restaurants in which to taste Basque cuisine (young eels, hake, cod, ox T-bone steak, baby squid ...) and lots of typical inns (Casa Montes, Café Bilbao...) where you can “txikitear” (drink wines) or taste the typical “pintxos” (tapas).
In the middle of the Old Quarters it is worth visiting the Gothic Cathedral of Santiago, from the 15th century, and the Basque Archaeology, Ethnography and History Museum, together with the churches of San Antón and San Nicolás.
Close to the San Antón bridge and going along the edge of the estuary, you can find the Mercado de la Ribera (produce market), famous in gastronomy and offering products from this land. It is one of the largest markets in Europe and its colourful and bright stained-glass windows are renowned. Afterwards, along the right bank, you will find the Arriaga Theatre, a great Neoclassical building inspired by the Paris Opera House.
Nowadays it is a cultural centre to house different activities. It is highly recommended to visit the Café Boulevard, in front of the Arriaga Theatre, famous for its literary gatherings.
From there, you can contemplate El Arenal, a large promenade full of trees. It is the main scene for the Aste Nagusia (Great Week) and other festivities. At the end of El Arenal you find the Town Hall, founded in 1892. From there, a nice boulevard goes along the estuary to the University of Deusto.
The demographic and economic growth forced the city to expand across the other side of the Nervion River. The new urban planning, quite different from the old town, consists of wide streets and elegant buildings with an English touch. The Gran Vía, the main artery, is full of shopping centres, banks and hotels. It goes from the Plaza Circular to the Plaza del Sagrado Corazón. You should take a good look at the statue of Don Diego López de Haro (founder of Bilbao), the Council Palace from 1891, the Abando Railway Station with a huge stained-glass window depicting Basque traditions, the English-style Doña Casilda Park, and the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the best art galleries in Spain.
Under the motto “Bilbao Estimula 2005. Año de la Gastronomía Vasca” (Bilbao Stimulates 2005. Year of Basque Gastronomy), the capital of Biscay houses multiple activities with a clear objective in mind: to stimulate the senses of the citizens through gastronomy and to turn the city into an important point of attraction where local people and visitors become active participants in the knowledge of the Cuisine with a big “C”, integrating the cuisine deeply rooted in the Basque Country's history and tradition, and the recreational aspect of the cuisine.
This year you have a perfect opportunity to know and throughly appreciate Basque gastronomy, universally recognised and one of the key Basque identity signs. The privileged situation of the Basque Country, in-between the mountains and the sea, offers high quality raw material (vegetables, meat and fish). And the Basque chefs, with the emergence of the “Basque Nouvelle Cuisine” and the adaptation of the Traditional Basque Cuisine to modern times, have become well-known and respected figures.
If the founder of the town of Bilbao, Mr. Diego López de Haro, could rise from his grave, he would probably not recognize that little early settlement that emerged around seven streets. This northern city has experienced such changes that have little or nothing to do with the industrial appearance it offered some years ago. The so-called ‘Guggenheim effect’ still attracts not only celebrities from show-business but also ordinary tourists. Hotels are increasing in number aimed at meeting tourists' demands.
That is why your first visit must be to the building created by the North-American architect Frank Gehry, who is responsible for the city’s tourist attraction. The Guggenheim Museum stands right in the middle of an area known as Abandoibarra, the site for amazing town-planning projects and a clear landmark for the city of the future. Guarded by ‘Puppy’, a huge dog covered in flowers, this museum houses the cream of modern art and new trends. It is opened from 10.00am to 8.00pm, from Tuesday to Sunday, and the ordinary ticket costs €7.
However, if there is one corner of the city which perfectly defines its true essence, this is the Old Quarter. Some of the possibilities that this most characteristic part of the town offers, include the traditional ‘chiquiteo’ (drinking wines from bar to bar), shopping in over 700 shops and, if it is a weekend, having drinks in tits many pubs and alternative bars. As we go deeper into the streets, a recommended visit is the Plaza Nueva, a work in Neoclassical style with sixty-four arcs supported on Doric columns. Under its arcade, we can find many places such as Víctor Montes or Café Bilbao to taste the delicious ‘pintxos’ (tapas) and the typical dishes of the Basque cuisine.
With regard to accommodation in Bilbao, variety takes first place. From humble Bed & Breakfasts in the Old Quarter to the elegance of the Gran Hotel Domine, belonging to the Silken chain of hotels and located in front of the Guggenheim Museum, or the exclusive Hotel Carlton, in Plaza Moyua, one of the key points in the town. In addition, Bilbao is perfectly connected to nearby villages like Getxo or the area of Uribe Kosta, where you can enjoy a day on the beach if the weather is good. Different bus connections and underground lines are available to connect the city to these villages in half an hour approximately. The fastest and most comfortable way to reach Bilbao from any part of the world is by plane to Loiu Airport, where you can take a taxi and arrive in Bilbao in ten minutes.